The Renegades have reached a fork in the road. A right turn and they are back in the chase for first place. Going the other way they run into a barricade before the cliff.
"We need to win this game," middle linebacker Jason Kralt understated, referring to tonight's 8 p.m. kickoff at Frank Clair Stadium against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. "We can not take another step back. We need to get some points."
Hard as it is to imagine, the Blue Bombers need them more. At 3-9, GM Brendan Taman has labeled this a do-or-die game for his club. And on the road, Winnipeg usually dies. The Bombers have not won away from Canad Inns Stadium in more than a year -- a nine-game span of futility dating back to a 17-4 victory Sept. 5, 2004 in Regina.
It was one of only two road wins Winnipeg had last season. The other was a 29-1 pasting of the Renegades July 16, a game that sent Ottawa spiralling after a strong start as it was also the night QB Kerry Joseph suffered an injury that hampered him the rest of the season.
The Renegades -- and Joseph -- were also pushed down the hill that has them on their current three- game slide by the Bombers. Winnipeg has also lost its three games since that 38-17 trouncing of the 'Gades, but two were by two points.
"This is a very, very crucial game for us playoff wise," Bombers head coach Jim Daley said yesterday
The Renegades can still smell the exhaust fumes from the rear of the East Division pacesetting Argos, who are 7-4 and enjoying a bye week. Ottawa and Toronto face each other twice in the final six weeks. In between the two teams are the 5-5 Montreal Alouettes, who could conceivably fall back to third place this weekend as they have the unenviable task of taking on the 10-0 B.C. Lions tomorrow in Vancouver.
But a loss against the Bombers and the Renegades will have to be more concerned about missing out on the playoffs for the fourth straight year than hosting a playoff game. If the 2-9 Hamilton Ticats can't catch them, the Renegades will be in danger of losing out on a post-season berth by way of the crossover format. At present, the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders have the same record as Ottawa, tied in the battle for the CFL's final two playoff spots.
"We have to keep control of our own destiny," said Joseph. We're not panicking or anything. Guys know we need this game.
"We just have to get that feeling of winning again."
Coach Joe Paopao is counting on Joseph to lead the Renegades.
"I expect him to go out there and have a great game, to lead us to victory," Paopao stated. "It's easier said than done."